Nordstrom UX Principles

Nordstrom, 2013


A well-crafted set of design principles can be a powerful tool.

Teams can use them to communicate the values they espouse in their work. Designers can use them to focus their thinking on a project. Stakeholders can use them to ensure a project reflects the goals and attitudes of the larger organization. And, from time to time, they can be leveraged as an objective source of direction when disagreements arise on a project.

Kind of obsessed with the workshop timelapse genre.

I was tasked with bringing the team together for the purpose of finding a shared understanding of our values as UX designers, and then distilling that down to a set of driving principles. 

In a series of workshops, I led the team through the generation of a large number of value statements across a range of high-level themes encompassing the customer experience.

I compiled and refined these statements, and then asked the team to vote anonymously for the 15 statements that they felt most strongly about, which gave me a good sense of the way the team thinks about their work collectively.

The result was a set of principles we use to help guide our projects, bring new hires quickly up to speed on our team's philosophy, and yes, settle the occasional argument.

Trello's voting feature made it easy for the team to vote for the statements that resonated with them the most.

The list employs a three-tiered structure:

  • Six principles that are a succinct expression of the team's philosophy.
  • Secondary statements that clarify and expand upon the top-level principles.
  • A third level comprised of questions designers can ask themselves, and each other, to help align their work.


Nordstrom UX Design Principles



Effortlessness is as important in design as it is in fashion.


Less, but better. Keep taking things away until the design desperately needs it back. 

  • Why is that design element there?
  • Does it bring value to the customer?
  • Can the design work without it? 


Every element should serve an essential purpose. Resist the urge to decorate. 

  • Does that element help the customer accomplish their task?
  • Are you using that design element because it solves a problem, or because you like the way it looks?
  • Are you presenting just what’s critical? The customer may have already done their research and is arriving at the site an expert. Inspire, and support their purchase with Nordstrom. 


Think like a toddler. Relentlessly ask yourself "why?" to help bulletproof the design as much as possible. 

  • Why that content?
  • Why that layout?
  • Why that control?
  • Why that path?


Don't fear white space (or the reaper.) Allow the content to define the space, and use contrast and tension to help guide the eye.

  • Can you use white space to create a place for your content, instead of using a container?
  • Are you using content to move the customer through the page?


"Beautifully functional" is better than "beautiful" or "functional". 

  • Looks great. Can it work better?
  • Works great. Can it look better?


Consistency simplifies the customer experience.

Set the bar for variation as high as possible.

  • Is that a new pattern? Why?
  • If you're introducing a new pattern, can it be reused in the future? Are you prepared to document it?
  • Does a new pattern for your current design bring more value in the long term than using an existing pattern?

Follow expected standards for common tasks.

  • Can you use an established pattern or path that is common to the internet or the touchpoint?
  • If you're creating a new pattern, is it better for our customers than one that's already established and familiar?

Resist duplication — of content, controls, interactions, paths — as a strategy for increasing discoverability.

  • Can you solve discoverability problems without duplication?
  • If you feel like you must duplicate content or controls, will it confuse customers?

Speak in a universal language across the entire journey.

  • Is there something similar in a different channel or being worked on by another? If you do not know, find out.
  • Are you doing what you can to reference related cross-channel features?
  • Are you playing up the human aspect Nordstrom customers expect in the store? (80% of Direct customers live within 25 miles of a full-line store.) Can you help build a relationship? 


Performance makes or breaks even the most carefully designed experience. 


Regard optimal performance in all features as a necessity, not a nice-to-have.

  • Do you know the performance context in which your feature will live? Is it going into an experience that is already performance-challenged?


Leverage the capabilities (visual presentation, transitions, animation) provided by the platform.

  • Are you using an image when it could be rendered in code?
  • Can the browser or OS solve the problem for you?
  • Are you delivering something over the wire that could be better handled by the client?


In the mobile world, bandwidth costs the customer real money. The heavier the feature, the more it has to justify its weight with particularly compelling content or functionality.

  • All that content makes this feature pretty heavy. Are you sure you need it all?
  • Will the customer feel like the time and money spent loading this page was worthwhile? Can you deliver your content on the current page instead of a new page? 




Accessibility for people and devices is a core customer service value. 


Design for all devices, all the time.

  • How will this feature work on a tablet? On a phone? On a touch screen? With a screen reader?


Design for extremes of ability and experience, and the middle will take care of itself.

  • Can someone who has never shopped online understand how to use this feature? Can someone with reduced visual acuity use this feature?
  • Will this feature be usable for older customers? Younger customers?


Think of the context in which the customer is accessing the site or service, designing with distractions and interruptions in mind.

  • Shopping is not always a linear experience. Can the customer stop without having to start over? Are you using text to explain something that could be communicated visually?
  • Could a customer who is only half paying attention still use this feature?
  • Is the experience the most convenient it can be for the customer?


Design for touch as a first-class citizen. Consider mouse and keyboard input as enhancements.

  • Are you following best practices for touch targets?
  • That mouseover is fancy, but how will it work on a touch device?
  • Are you relying on a mouseover when you could use another technique?


The experience is not about the device or channel, but about the customer.

  • Are you considering all use cases and real-time situations?
  • Are you embracing each channel's strengths to support the journey? 


Innovation is for the customer, not for ourselves or the competition.


Just because a competitor is doing it doesn't mean we should. Conversely, just because a competitor isn't doing it doesn't mean we can't be the first.

  • Are you sure their customers' problems are the same as our customers' problems? How and why? How can you be sure that feature is performing well for the competitor?
  • Is there a unique way we can solve for our customers' unique problems?


Solve the problem in the way that's best for Nordstrom's customer at every touchpoint.

  • Have you vetted a new concept with customers via one or more of our user-centered evaluation methods? Will this concept empower Nordstrom customers to engage with our brand in all channels?


Be future-friendly. Design with tomorrow's devices, use cases and feature growth in mind.

  • Are you solving for a particular device? Why?
  • How might customers use this feature differently in the future?
  • How is this feature going to evolve? Are you accounting for that now?
  • How is the customer experience in the store evolving? How are customers using technology while they shop in-store?


Consider personalization whenever possible. Customers expect their shopping experience to be relevant to them.

  • Is there data available that would help make this a more personalized experience for the customer who is signed in and who we know?
  • Would this experience be better if we spoke to the customer in a language specific to that individual?
  • Does what you're designing alienate a segment of customers who will be using it?
  • Are we asking the customer to provide information we already have? Can we save the customer time and effort by pre-populating forms with known information? 


Quality matters in all details, big and small.


Be intentional in all aspects of the design. Small decisions add up to big experiences.

  • Can you explain all your small decisions and why you made them?


Keep a close eye on the details throughout the process.

  • Have you checked your design against existing patterns? Are you using them as documented? Is the developer implementing the spacing, type, color and other details as you intended?


Be proactive about identifying and reporting defects.

  • Can it be fixed now rather than later? It'll be harder to fix later.


The customer will never know what was intended, only what they see and experience.

  • Is a defect or compromise going to be apparent to our customers?
  • If so, what does that defect or compromise communicate to the customer?
  • Are the channels out of sync? Will the experience feel seamless from the customer's perspective?